One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that obviously I’m not getting any younger. Gone are the days where I’d be doing a five day sesh at festivals (I got a hotel at Isle Of Wight Festival last year and my 21 year old self would absolutely hate me – I’ve not been a stranger to waking up in a field) nor am I downing jaeger-bombs and partying till dawn every weekend. My goalposts in life changed a while ago now. I just love watching the younger generation get into what I loved and still love – guitar music and having a good time. I’ve unfortunately had people see this as a bit of disadvantage and whilst I may be absent from outside venue doorways after hours, it’s not because I don’t want to – believe you me there’s nothing I’d love more – but I’m usually at home starting my review and editing photos of the bands I’m working so hard to promote. I get my kicks from live music now. There’s a bigger picture here and that’s something a lot of people miss: I feel I’ve had my fun on that level (or the floor) and whilst I still love a few beers here and there, my main focus now is how we as a company, Northern Exposure, can continue to successfully work with and grow the upcoming bands in this unsigned industry.
Recently, one of the bands who played for us thanked us on stage: Calva Louise said, ‘Kate and Rachel are like our mums – they look after us!’
Straight away a little bit of me died inside. I’m still cool – right?
Almost immediately it got me thinking about all sorts of things and I quickly came to the conclusion that her seeing us in that way is a really good thing. I am a mum! What is the point of pretending I’m not? As much as I’d like to be 19, I’m not and I have a hell of a lot of responsibilities. Responsibilities that do not respond well to no sleep and a hangover. As any woman with children will know, being a mum is the hardest job in the world and often, the hardest jobs done well can be the most rewarding. Whilst this article isn’t aimed at any area, I am personally finding on the Sheffield scene there’s a bit of a popularity contest going on in terms of music promotion, where the evils of ageism, classism and sexism seem to be making too much of a regular occurrence. Forgetting recent events entirely, people are still resorting to using bad etiquette to either attempt to raise their profile or put the reputation of others into disrepute. How uncool is that? Turning this behaviour on its head is the main point of this article.
Let’s be honest, the feedback bands give us about some of their experiences playing gigs is shocking. It’s such a shame that I hear week in week out bands are travelling up and down the country for hardly anything and with no or little beer or food rider – let alone petrol in some cases. It’s that old adage of ‘well all bands have to do it – it’s just the way it’s always been.’
Yet, a little effort isn’t going to go amiss when people are travelling hours to play a gig. Twenty or thirty quid for their time at least should be standard practice but it isn’t. It also raises the question for me where does the responsibility lie – with the promoter or the venue? Everyone is struggling to keep afloat and the best way we can suggest to tackle this is to work together: bands, venue and promoters. Again, not something that I think going to catch on in a hurry but it makes perfect sense to me. You put on a show and all three do their job of promoting the gig – if it does well everyone benefits. As we all know most indie promoters rarely break even and do it for the love of music – that is almost certainly our case: it’s more a labour of love and always has been and probably always will be. Occasionally, bands will be asked to play a free showcase – we’ve put them on ourselves – in certain circumstances this can be beneficial as the promotion and publicity linked to certain brands is worth covering the cost of petrol for. There are always going to be exceptions to the rule. Looking after your bands (as many do) is still paramount even in those circumstances and that is the point I’m making here.
In conversations with many bands, the reception they receive on arrival at a venue can be less than inviting. Now, promoters can’t always be there and sometimes a rep will be hired to take care of the show. It’s actually something we are looking into and it’s paramount to us that we have a rep who mirrors our passion and enthusiasm as a promoter and who doesn’t just see it as a ‘job’. When putting on gigs, a friendly face and someone who will make the band and crew feel appreciated when they’ve just travelled four hours (or more) up the motorway is always a good start and a few sandwiches, a bit of fruit and some crisps isn’t going to break a budget either.
In essence, it’s about accountability and integrity. Anyone who is putting on gigs is responsible for the wellbeing and welfare for their acts. This business is ruthless and not all band members are as mentally strong to withstand this industry as others. Small things like a nice reception and basic kindness can go a long way to help support the fragility of the scene in this area. We’ve had private conversations with bands and a bad gig or a series of bad gigs can haunt an artist for days or weeks, even on occasion making them question why they would stay a part of this industry. It’s not a pretty subject and I’m not saying if a band doesn’t get their vegan cheese sandwich they are going to throw themselves off the nearest rooftop but things like a poor reception, feeling unappreciated and financially exploited can all be contributory factors to the decline in someone’s mental health and it’s about time people held themselves accountable for their part in a band’s experience of the industry.
Now, if this means promoters conducting meetings with venues to discuss how best to welcome a band and help prepare them for the gig in order for the band to give their best performance and please a crowd, then so be it. In turn, this will build a venue’s reputation and a promoter’s reputation while ensuring the band goes away happy with their performance and the promotion. This is something all venues and promoters should be doing. Forming friendships and maintaining good relations across the board with all musicians, crew and promoters is again a no-brainer. Who, running any business, would not consider word of mouth? This is stronger than any advertising campaign.
We always go the extra mile and offer a personal touch (in an extreme move, to my horror, Kate asked the bands for their dietary requirements for the last rider!) We have put on over 50 gigs now and I can guarantee that every band (many reputable and big on the unsigned scene) who have played for us will sing our praises in relation to the sound, the venues we work with, the coverage and the promotion – that’s not just me saying that; it’s from the horses’ mouths, all those people who matter the most to us – the bands. Of course, bands also need to be aware that when they find a promoter that’s decent they must put the hard work in as well. It’s like a holiest of trinities- it has to come from a place where all three providers: the promoters, the venues and the bands work well together to ensure the event gets ample publicity and promotion, all three elements communicate with each other, work together and promote each other and the venue, promoter and band grows as a result. We have to all be aware that we are all in this together and if promoters are going the extra mile then bands should also be.
Is this a Northern Exposure sales pitch? We aren’t capitalists as we approach what we do in a more philanthropic way: the growth of the indie unsigned music industry is more important to us than the growth of our own personal bank accounts. People say to us, you’re either rich or insane and believe you me it’s the latter. Yes, the past three years may have been tough financially for us with us covering a hell of a lot of the cost but we are confident that by building Northern Exposure on these foundations it will provide longevity of unsigned music in the industry rather than lining the pockets of a few. In the words of Johnny Cash ‘We Walk The Line’.
So just remember, whilst I may not be snorting lines of coke off Kate’s tits in the toilets or necking litres of Buckfast – we have the best interests of the unsigned scene at heart and anything we can do to keep it going we will. If that makes us uncool we’ll quite happily take that on the chin.
People in this industry must look at the bigger picture and learn to accept change for the greater good of all involved. It is the only way we can possibly move forward and survive the knocks unscathed.
Those in music needing help and emotional support can call 0808 802 8008 free of charge, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.